SASKATOON – Theology on Tap began the season with a provocative question posed by presenter Blake Sittler: "God is alive, but is religion on life-support?"
Sittler, co-director of pastoral services for the Saskatoon Diocese, told the gathering of his efforts to convince his daughter to attend Mass.
After he reminded her that we go to church for just one hour on Sundays to thank God for all we have, and to experience the love of God in our lives, she responded: "Oh no Dad, don't get me wrong. I love God, I just hate going to church."
Some 40 people came to Lydia's Pub to take part in discussions about faith and the relevance of religion.
Sittler drew on his professional life as well as his 17-year marriage and the experience of raising three children in the Catholic faith.
"How to pass the faith on to our kids is something Brooke and I have wrestled with a lot," said Sittler.
When he was raised, if kids weren't behaving, parents would give a pinch or whack behind the head, he recalled. But today parents try to give children a positive experience of going to church.
Sittler said that in discussions in his professional life, he has not found many who speak of the Mass and the liturgy as what built their faith.
"They would say that it was a discipline and there was community there, that they had moments of inspiration, but a shift is definitely happening that we need to deal with," he said.
"The pope has seen this and called for the Year of Faith as a response to what he sees as a crisis of faith.
"He goes to events like World Youth Day and sees the youth excited, laughing, cheering, and then goes to parishes and dioceses and he talks with members who are older, they are tired and he hears this from bishops during their reports where they talk of fewer people.
"He sees it as a crisis. The salt has become bland, the lamp is under the bushel basket."
In a discussion about why there has been a drop in religious practice, participants talked about how few Catholics go to Confession regularly, a lack of instruction and catechesis, and also a lack of trust caused by the abuse scandals.
Sitter expanded on the effects of the scandals, describing his experience of talking to Catholics from Ireland who still believe in God but have come to see the Church as corrupt.
Sittler posed another point for discussion: the effect that credit cards and the use of credit has on our culture and the practice of faith. A credit card allows a person to do whatever he wants before he can afford it.
"We are a very anaesthetized society. Wealth doesn't kill faith but it can numb the impact," he said.
"You look at places where faith is dying and it is wealthy societies and you look where the church is growing and it is Africa and Latin America, where there is struggle and they need hope and vision."
Sittler stressed the importance of reaching out to everyone on their faith journey.
"There are people who are a little bit cautious, they have been burned or maybe they are a little anaesthetized. They have faith though," he said. "It's not our job to judge them. It's our job to give them some steps, some things to do to nurture their faith."